When I joined my first software company in the late 90’s, businesses were in a race to embrace the web. Budgets were flowing and fear of failure was trumped by fear of missing out. My father, blue-collar to the bone, would often joke “I’m going to buy a dotcom” despite not once having touched a keyboard.
Finding buyers and selling software was simple back then: the more calls you made, the more opportunity you found. It was the golden era for technology, funny money, fine meals and an esprit de corps that any company today would kill for.
Over the next ten years, the world changed profoundly. Businesses relearned how to engage with their customers. Terms like ‘ROI’, ‘Value,’ and ’Nurture’ entered the sales and marketing lexicon. The subscription economy was born; ‘customer lifetime value’ and ‘deferred revenue’ becoming the new measure of business health. The customer became queen, and she’s empowered with more choices (and higher expectations) than ever before.
But one thing still seems stuck in the past…How we approach acquiring new customers is a bit like speed dating with a blind fold on.
The best B2B marketing organizations convert 1-2% of marketing leads into an actual sale. Think about that for a moment. Now walk into your CFOs office with a plan to flush 98% of the demand budget down the drain. We affectionately refer to this as ‘the marketing blackhole’, and the CMOs I speak with are painfully aware of it.
So why is it so hard to generate consistent quality leads? First, accept that half or more of the contacts in your marketing database either give you bad info, have moved on or just aren’t a fit for your product. Now, look at what information you have to work with — company name, size, industry and probably not much more. How do you send the right message to the right person at the right time when all you can see is firmographic & demographic information? High-level information serves, at best, high-level campaigns…which in part explains why the current odds are 5:1 that a ‘qualified’ lead will never close. There is no leverage in demand generation.
Marketing is not alone in the struggle. The best sales people I know spend ~50% of their time researching the compelling fit and relevant contacts within target accounts. They scour annual reports, press releases, LinkedIn and other news sources piecing together the information puzzle before lifting the phone. And even then, there’s no guarantee you’re well timed. The whole process is laborious and grossly inefficient, costing businesses untold fortunes.
If you’re still reading this, you’re with me — it shouldn’t be this hard, right? I couldn’t stop thinking about this during a recent sabbatical and made a decision to either start a company or join one in flight aimed at solving this problem. Copious amount of research, interviews and job offers followed and what I found far surpassed my comprehension of the problem and vision for a solution:
- IMAGINE a massive listening system that collects millions of digital signals daily from the companies you want to sell to. This is the digital body language your prospects are exhibiting everyday on job boards, social media posts, blogs and more. The system normalizes this data, and through machine learning determines which signals are meaningful, weighing them against a known buying behavior of your best customers.
- Now, through nothing short of magic, the system literally predicts who needs your solution and tells you why. It tells you what to talk to each prospect about, and where to apply resources based on statistical probability. Importantly, it also tells you where not to focus.
Now imagine your sales and marketing automation systems consuming this intelligence and using it to serve prospects with incredibly relevant, targeted content. Your marketers can see previously unknown markets and micro-segments from which high-yield campaigns and content strategies are based. Your sales team has account-level intelligence (not just a lead score) in CRM setting up a great first call and saving hours upon hours of research. Leads are converting because sales and marketing are operating from the same data-driven point of view, and the sales cadence is moving faster because we’re talking our prospects’ language.
Well my friends, the good news is that the time has come. Those who move early to embrace a data-driven approach to sales and marketing will have significant competitive advantage. Of course, the opposite is true. I have no doubt Predictive Marketing and Sales Intelligence will be a staple for every B2B business in the next 5 years. What are you waiting for?